My View From The Country

Is The Land-Grant System Meeting The Needs Of Producers?

Funding for agricultural research at land-grant colleges has been declining from industry and state sources. Much of today’s research is being funded by large grants that are devoted to federal government priorities.

I heard that attendance at this year’s Range Beef Cow Symposium (RBCS) this week in Rapid City, SD, was below expectations. That might not be surprising if you consider that the RCBS tends to be a drive-in type of meeting, and area producers were ravaged by one of the worst blizzards in history a couple of months back. In addition, the area is in the thick of a bitter cold snap that moved in at meeting time. Not surprisingly, some producers might have opted to stay at home and button down their operations for the weather.

But the cynical side of me says that there are other factors at work as well. The RCBS is a rotating conference held every two years; the program is a collaboration between Extension personnel in four states – South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado.

The conference has been well attended in the past as the production information historically has been sector-focused and deep. However, a poor attendance at a meeting like this might raise questions about our land-grant university system, and the relative influence it has on livestock production these days.

There is no doubt that the world is changing; information exchange within the industry is far more rapid and widely disseminated today than previously. So much of the information presented at these types of meetings isn’t new in the sense that producers likely have already heard or read the information.


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Additionally, funding of research from within the industry or via state sources has been declining. As a result, much of the research today is being funded by large grants that are devoted to federal government priorities. Those drivers might be important in the long term, but factors such as product healthfulness, sustainability, or economic footprint and impact don’t generate the same type of enthusiasm as the smaller projects that tended to relate to improvement in day-to-day management decisions.

Perhaps it’s that the low-hanging fruit has already been harvested. Or maybe it’s the shift in the focus of the research that’s being done today. Or it’s simply the advancements in the speed of information dissemination made possible by modern technology. But I tend to think that the primary reason many producers attend these large conferences is more about networking than information collection.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 7

on Dec 9, 2013

So why didn't you go?

I think your comment on the lack of state funding for education and land grant universities needs more emphasis. Across the board funding cuts are deceptively easy. They don't take much thinking to quantify, but they escape the hard work of figuring out what really needs to be kept.

Mark McClelland's comments in an earlier column address this. Funds for universities are drying up, even at the Federal level. Producers need to lobby their own legislatures to keep and expand funding for their state university systems. The buyer gets to pick the specs. Federal dollars are, not surprisingly, less sensitive to single state or even regional needs. State funds and support are needed to bring back more applied research.

And while you're at it, figure out a way universities can hire professors who don't have Ph.D's. This system and current funding drive hiring to folks who have come through a system of chasing declining research bucks. Put together a funded team whose success is based on solving problems and teaching ranchers instead of writing grants and publishing papers.

on Dec 9, 2013

I agree. We need to fund more applied research. Current funding tends(to me anyway) to fund studies on studies for the sake of those performing the studies rather than useful progressive research and inclusion of current producers practices actually on the land be it livestock or grains. There is a mountain of knowledge out there on the farm itself (with no PHDs) that can be developed to the benefit of production efficiencies and practical stewardship.

PhDinKS (not verified)
on Dec 9, 2013

3 problems with applied research funding: the ag "public" is shrinking, the ivory "silos" are taller, and the postmodern attitude (mistrust of science in general) is growing. Producer groups need to step up and either demand unbiassed answers from their representatives, or "ante up" themselves on projects to answer their own questions.

on Dec 9, 2013

my thoughts are posted on a website under the heading editorial and article Whats Happening? The current situation with many ag experiment stations is they are operating on grants and company funds and are hard pressed to give an unbiased opinion. We have the greatest agriculture machines ever but it needs help to supply the world an ample supply of safe wholesome foods.

Grad Student (not verified)
on Dec 10, 2013

I'm an animal science grad student and I can attest there certainly has been a decline in applied research primarily driven by a change in funding sources. I think it is important to remember how previous basic research helps the cattlemen on an everyday basis: new and more potent antibiotic options; improved AI protocols; Rumensin and beta agonists; and genomic enhanced EPD's. There has also been a pretty big push in the area of fetal programming which really is grounded in making a difference at the cow calf level. Though it may not have resulted in any earth-shattering results thus far, it does represent a commitment.

I think it would be great to hear more problems from cattlemen and encourage them to email their extension researchers with their ideas.

While meetings may not serve as a primary means of disseminating information, I have observed a good mix of science and production at the BIF meetings I've attended.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 11, 2013

I don't intend to point fingers, but a lot of the problems that extension people face come from a lack of support from the university administration. I encourage you to get involved with your state land grant university. In many of these schools, the ones making decisions at the administration level are so far removed from the land grant purpose that they often downplay the importance of Agriculture departments. As a result, those areas of research don't receive the support they need.

John Maddux (not verified)
on Dec 16, 2013

Dear Troy,

I have to take exception with you article that questions the Land Grant system not meeting the needs of today’s producers. Your first point is well made. We have lost some key funding for our system and as producers we need to support and testify for continued financial support for the system, however our Land Grant system here in Nebraska is alive and well, providing key guidance for cattlemen. And while I am not as familiar with other states, my exposure to other state"s extension systems is such that I feel your criticism is overstated.
Troy, for our operation, the Research and Extension mission of our University is indispensable. In reproduction, nutrition and perhaps most importantly systems approach to beef cattle production, the University system is a key partner in our operation.
At Maddux Cattle Company, not only have we tapped into the basic research our NU system has created but, we have taken it the next step and incorporated a more holistic management approach by incorporating multiple factors of production to create a business model that serves our environment, corporate mission and Income Statement.
And while the Land grant system has provided the intellectual foundation to create our business model and production system, they have also have delivered an educational module that is unsurpassed. Every one of our employees has been through the NU Ranch Practicum so that they can better understand and implement the applied research generated by our University system. The Practicum along with numerous other field days and seminars have provided our workforce with a first class understanding of why we do what we do.
It is true there is a segment of agriculture that are resistant to change and technology. I am sorry to say we have a significant segment of the cow-calf business are neo-Luddites and fail to take advantage of the information available to them through Extension. This however is an indictment of human nature in general and not of the University Extension system in particular.
Troy, while I enjoy your articles and your intellectual approach toward your writing, in this case I feel your conclusions are off the mark and don’t reflect the reality I know here on the ground with the Land Gant University system.


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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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